The introduction to the Common Core English language arts standards explains that the standards cannot possibly “enumerate all or even most of the content that students should learn,” and need to be “complemented by a well-developed, content-rich curriculum.” That last bit recently caused the City Journal’s Sol Stern to applaud the return of content-based curriculum to American education, from whence it has been AWOL for most of the past half century. And where it firmly belongs: Results from a three-year pilot study in New York City indicate that shifting from process- and skills-driven reading programs to E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge content-based curriculum did wonders for student learning. Reading-achievement gains at schools that implemented Core Knowledge were five times greater than in “demographically similar” schools that continued to employ a more conventional literacy program. Still, proponents of content-driven curricula would do well to keep the champagne on ice because, while the standards hint at this important restoration, they alone can’t deliver on it. Instead, it will be up to state and district leaders and teachers to wade through the morass of new and updated curriculum materials and select those that put the focus squarely on content over process. Only time will tell whether the few phrases in the new multistate standards that link to a content-rich curriculum will be enough to drive the instructional changes our students so desperately need.

A version of this analysis appeared on the Common Core Watch blog.

RELATED ARTICLE: Sol Stern, "The Curriculum Reformation,” City Journal, 22, no. 3 (2012)

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